Recreational marijuana use is now legal in the state of Illinois. While medicinal marijuana has been lawful for years, this conversation now goes much further than people looking to deal with pain relief. The debate has now turned to the usage of this substance in the general culture, particularly by people concerned with its moral implications.
Let’s put this in context. Marijuana is the most commonly used substance after alcohol in the United States. Its presence in popular culture is ubiquitous. Consequently, the marijuana legalization movement is both an acknowledgment of this reality and an effort to rectify the injustices of the decades long War on Drugs. Millions of people, most heavily people of color, bore the weight of the government’s discriminatory initiative. The United States now boasts the distinction of having the world’s largest prison population. Communist China with over a billion residents and a highly repressive government has over a million less inmates. Marijuana decriminalization and overall legalization represent one significant step in addressing this national injustice.
Yet are there any moral barriers to using the drug? Should Christians join in? As with most issues, the Bible provides guidance. Yet for those looking for a “thou shall or shall not smoke marijuana,” will not find it. Rather, there are a few clear principles that address this.
Primarily, the book of Genesis provides for the usage of every plant on the Earth. According to this, what grows from the ground is a gift from God and is to be used. Cannibus has a host of historic uses that extend from food to pain management and clothing. Consequently, there is no clear prohibition against the plant in scripture. However, there are a few facts to consider. The THC in marijuana has been proven to have a long term impact on cognitive development. Additional health impacts include memory loss, impaired coordination, and loss of the ability to concentrate. Smoking any substance has a whole host of health challenges. Furthermore, marijuana functions primarily as a depressant, slowing down a person’s motor skills. Considering biblical instruction about sobriety and lethargy, the concern may be less about whether one can use the drug and more about rather one should.
I Corinthians 6: 12 is a guiding rule for this issue. It teaches that “Everything is permissible for me, but not all things are beneficial.” While not all users fall into the cultural stereotypes of the derelict “Cheech and Chong” lifestyle, we must be careful about buying into the false promises of substance escapism. Often those most in need of sobriety for survival are most likely to use outside medication for internal peace. In this way, we should exercise restraint with respect to this and other intoxicating substances. Biblical teachings on the use of wine are helpful in this case. Moderate alcohol consumption is seen in various places throughout the Bible. Drinking wine is acceptable,yet drunkenness is not. The question for marijuana users is whether there is a corollary way to view this. Is there an acceptable amount of marijuana usage that does not intoxicate to the point of “drunkenness”?
The lines on this issue may be a little more nuanced than most people desire. Many want clear and simple demarcations of right and wrong. This is not always possible. Moderate, infrequent usage may be tolerable, yet this will require maturity, discernment, and some self-examination. There are benefits to the new world of legal marijuana. I am grateful that millions of people will no longer face the weight of the criminal justice system for the distribution of a plant, and that new economic opportunities may exist. However, there are always two sides to every story. Believers should carefully consider both.